Finding my unique leadership style

Dana hails from New Jersey and currently works in Educational Staffing at International Schools Services (ISS), based out of Princeton. Dana was a French teacher for 5 years before joining the team at International Schools Services. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from The College of New Jersey and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in French from Rutgers University. Here she reflects on her time as an AlumniCorps Emerging Leaders (EL) program participant in the 2016-17 NYC cohort.

Reflecting on the past year, I could never have imagined I would be where I am now. One year ago I was wrapping up the end of a busy recruiting season and enjoying our last big event of the season – an International Recruitment Conference in Atlanta hosting roughly 500 educators and recruiters from all over the world. I wasn’t feeling particularly “leadership-y”; in fact, that was the furthest thing from my mind. Seeing all of the joyful, smiling faces of teachers who had just landed their dream job overseas, I was actually feeling a bit…adrift. A former educator myself, I always get a pang of “what if” when I see all the amazing places our clients are off to in their exciting new adventures.

I work for the outstanding nonprofit International Schools Services and I love my job. I love the team I work with and I love what we do. Our mission is to serve the needs of international schools and students worldwide and we do this in many different ways from the recruitment of faculty (my department), to purchasing the myriad of necessary educational materials, to offering management services for fledgling start-up schools. I came to this position 4 years ago, straight from the classroom, knowing I wanted to stay in the field of education but not in a teaching role. I was lost, uncertain, and unsure of where I could go or what the possibilities were. I was very fortunate to have landed at ISS, and was able to grow quickly in my knowledge of and appreciation for this great organization, but it never entered my mind that I could ever be “leadership material”.

Luckily for me, someone saw something in me that I hadn’t. When my supervisors suggested that I apply for the Emerging Leaders program, I double checked the email to make sure it had gone to the right person!

In my role at that time, I was responsible for the management of a team at our major events but it wasn’t a full-time leadership position. I did apply, and to my great astonishment, was accepted. I entered the EL program in June 2016 with a talented group of people who, I thought, were far more accomplished than I. I was intimidated and not at all sure I would be a good fit.

In hindsight, and after having talked to some of my cohort members, it turns out we were all feeling the same way – and we could not have been more wrong.

I don’t know if my cohort was special (I sure think it was) or if all EL groups have the same feel, but this was truly the experience of a lifetime. Through the thoughtful facilitation of our fearless leader, Yael Sivi, our cohort became not just a group that came together to learn, but a group of peers, colleagues and (best of all) friends.

EL was a safe space to share accomplishments, disappointments, job changes, promotions, tears, laughter and life changes – all without any fear of judgment. It’s extraordinary to me that in a group of driven, high-achieving “leaders to be”, there was absolutely no ego or competition. We were all there to grow – as individuals and as professionals – and to support each other in doing so.

Three months into Emerging Leaders I was promoted to my first full-time management position. I can truthfully say that without the lessons of EL to provide scaffolding, I would have been floundering in my new role, a drowning woman flailing about, grasping for anything to stay afloat. Instead, while I was nervous, I also felt a confidence that I’d not known before. I was armed with knowledge from Emerging Leaders and I felt like I had my entire cohort behind me, saying “get out there; show them what you can do!”

Through EL, I’ve gained a degree of self-awareness that has provided the much-needed ability to self-regulate – to know when I’m reacting impulsively and when I need to check myself.

I am passionate about my job and my organization, as are my team members. That passion means that emotions run high in our little department and this requires skill to smooth the flow of ideas, facilitate dialogue, and make sure everyone feels heard and appreciated. These are responsibilities of leadership that had never entered my mind prior to Emerging Leaders, perhaps because I’ve had excellent role models who do this seamlessly. I’m still very much a work in progress, but I know I’m on the right track. When I do flounder, I know exactly where to go for help…I just pull out my big, overflowing Emerging Leaders binder and inevitably, I find what I need. I also know with 100% confidence that I can reach out to my EL cohort for advice, suggestions, and support.

Emerging Leaders was a true journey in self-discovery. Those nine months were a deep-dive into who you are, how you relate to others and what drives you. You’re asked to take a look at what kind of leader you want to be and you’re given the tools to make that happen. For me, EL was the spotlight I needed to see the leadership qualities in myself that others seemed to perceive naturally. I learned that I didn’t need to become someone else to lead my team. I found my own unique leadership style during this course – and that is truly priceless.

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